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The Good and the Ugly: A Tale of Two Capitol Hill Condo Developments

By June 21, 2007


by guest contributor Carl Goodman

Much ink has been written on the Pine + Belmont mixed-use condo development. That’s the cheap profit-mongering venture by Weber + Thompson/Murray Franklyn. It’s slated to replace a vibrant block of Capitol Hill dive bars with a giant antiseptic edifice more appropriate to a nowheresville like Tukwila than the Pine/Pike Corridor. Weber + Thompson already despoiled Capitol Hill with its 2003 apartment monstrosity at 700 Broadway East and many of us feel that they’re gunning for a reprise with Pine + Belmont.

Less has been written on some really innovative projects by imaginative architects and developers.

I’m happy to report that I attended an Early Design Guidance Meeting earlier this week for a project entitled, “500 Belmont East,” a six-story condo planned near where I live. Designed and developed by a team from Arca Architecture + Urban Design, current plans call for a 62-unit, concrete and brick (that right, no stick construction!) stylish condo that improves, rather than detracts from, the current streetscape.

All units will have real decks, not those cheap warts called Juliet balconies that most other developers incorporate these days into their designs. Solid brick detailing and a majestic entrance portico are planned. The six or so ground-floor units facing Belmont will be two-story “townhomes,” integrated into the rest of the building but offering an attractive contrast to what otherwise could be a bulky façade. The building also sensitively handles its northern flank abutting the pocket park, Tashkent Park, by reducing the number of stories to lessen shadows and incorporating some attractive decking to make a nice transition from building to parkland.

Another innovative approach by the designer/developer is the hoped-for incorporation of an adjacent 22-spot outdoor parking lot owned by a nearby condo. The Arca folks are offering to swap those 22 spots for 32 indoor underground spots in their building that they would then dedicate to the neighboring condo. The neighboring condo gets a premium and the block loses an eyesore. (That neighboring condo still needs to obtain 100% homeowner buy-in for this proposed swap to occur.)

The average unit size at 500 Belmont is expected to be about 800 sq. ft., with the sq. ft. cost to be around $600-650 (or about $500,000 per unit). Not bad for what appears to be quality construction. If all goes according to plan, construction will start during 2Q 2008, with occupancy a year or 15 months later.

Arca Architecture also has in the works a 22-story condo called “SkyGarden” expected to be built near the historic Seattle First Baptist Church on First Hill. For that development, Arca plans large decks spiraling around the tower, with each story expected to be planted with different schemes of shrubs and trees. SkyGarden units are slated to be larger and pricier (starting at $1 million) than at 500 Belmont.

Urban Living trivia tidbit: Kyle Clark, one of the principals of Arca Architecture, shares Matt Goyer’s hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Kyle says that he checks out Urban Living.com first thing every morning to keep abreast of trends and learn how best to accommodate our articulated desires for urban condo living.

And just to be fair to Weber + Thompson and their decidedly different approach to Capitol Hill residential development, the neighborhood groups POWHat (Pine Olive Way Harvard area triangle) and PPUNC (the Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Coalition), have been meeting with the Pine + Belmont architects and developers to see how they can make that complex less egregious. We should learn fairly soon how persuasive those groups have been.